Emotional labor, women's work, and sentimental capital in nineteenth-century American fiction
In this dissertation, I examine texts by mid-nineteenth-century American women writers that undertake the difficult task of portraying women's labor within the confines of Sentimentalism. Despite Sentimental injunctions to keep women in the home and out of the marketplace, women wrote from within the Sentimental to claim the value of domestic labor and the influence of women in the business world. The lynchpin of this discussion was emotional labor, which enabled authors to discuss women's productive public contributions via the affective practices condoned by Sentimentalism. I argue that Sentimental emotional prescriptions work in tandem with economic theories to inscribe the gendered division of labor.Following the work of Lauren Berlant and Glenn Hendler, my project transforms criticism of Sentimentalism by attending to the emotional and "public" valences of the Sentimental. Unlike other scholarship, however, my project redresses the general elision of women's work from discussions of domesticity, Sentimentalism, and nineteenth-century American women's literature. Using sociological theories of class and practice to expose the economic source of "separate spheres" ideology, my project also shifts the discussion away from the emotion of sympathy to include the larger, more complex socio-emotional networks that underlie Sentimentalism. I employ Certeau's notions of practice to understand the way women writers take up but rework Sentimental conventions to critique its contradictions and restrictions and its role in gender, race, and class formation. In an extension of Pierre Bourdieu's metaphor of cultural capital, I argue for the Sentimental as a habitus with its own circulating Sentimental capital, a stock of social, economic, cultural, and emotional assets.The texts in this study take up Sentimental dispositions but engage in a variety of literary tactics to retheorize the Sentimental by revealing its inconsistencies and its economic foundations. Placing emotional practice at the center of their work enables these women writers to infuse women's emotional and household duties with labor value and women's imbursed work with emotional value. By offering a corrective for the limitations on women's labor imposed by Sentimental dispositions, these women writers defiantly situate economics as central to representations of women's lives.
- English